Wednesday April 24, 2024

2016: dialectic of continuity and change

By Shireen M Mazari
December 31, 2015

The year 2015 has been a defining year in terms of global strategic developments and shifting alliances. Perhaps, more clearly than ever before, we have also seen the linkages between all these strategic developments which have a dialectic of continuity and change taking us into 2016.

There has been the obvious linkage between the European refugee crisis and the near-anarchic situation in the non-monarchical Arab World which has provided increasing space for Daesh. With the terror attacks in Paris, the message also came home to Europe that it cannot intervene militarily to redefine the politics of the Middle East and remain immune to the fallout.

The Broader Middle East Initiative (BMEI) launched by the US and Europe post-9/11 saw the Arab Spring turn into a winter of discontent and chaos across Egypt, Libya and Iraq coalescing in Syria where a civil war became a ‘free-for-all’ for external powers to intervene and which allowed Daesh to move in.

It has not been just Paris and the refugee crisis that has brought home the fallout of the Daesh penetration into Muslim states to the Europeans. It has also been the massive recruitment of European youth into Daesh – from the UK and continental European states – that has revealed how the parameters of global extremism and terrorism have altered.

Some of us had been writing since 9/11 that the terrorist threat to Europe was not from Afghanistan or Pakistan but from within Europe’s increasingly marginalised and growing Muslim youth population. Unfortunately, Europe has still to adjust to these new realities as it adopts a belligerent posturing which will create more uncertainty and polarisation within its own polities. While the altering dynamics demand new approaches, the response from the powerful states has been largely traditional – reliance on punitive measures and military might.

Meanwhile, Syria has become the central battleground for militaristic policies unleashed by Western powers on the Arab world post-9/11. Daesh, fed in its infancy by the US, Israel and conservative Arab states, in the hope of countering Iran and the fervour of Hezbollah and Hamas, has now become a pretext for every major power to jump into the military fray with aerial bombardments on Syrian and Iraqi territories – with many civilians being killed as trigger happy Russians, Americans, British and French air forces create anarchy in the skies – all in an attempt to finish a monster they bred.

With no clear policy on Syria, the US and its allies are having to come to the realisation that they cannot get rid of Assad and Daesh at the same time. The rational approach is to bring Assad and Syrian political opposition groups – excluding Daesh – to the dialogue table and end the killings in Syria. A disconnect within the US allies is not helping matters either – with Turkey going it alone and causing concern over suspicions it may be buying oil from Daesh-held territories. Turkey’s increasing assertion of its own interests, including on the Kurdish issue, is going to lead to accentuating the disconnect between itself and its Nato allies.

Ironically, all that the BMEI has to show for itself is the new political space afforded to Iran in the region. As the autocratic Arab states were fatally weakened, the vacuum was filled by Iran and, today, Iran is one of the more effective fighting forces against Daesh – be it in Syria or Iraq – with boots on the ground not just aerial bombardments.

With the settlement of the Iranian nuclear issue, Iran’s pariah status has also ended and the coming year should see a greater role being played by Iran, alongside a Russia eager to reassert itself globally and a more outward-looking China, in resolving regional crises. These states can bring with them some fresh approaches to shake the US and its allies out of their stalemated positions. Canada under Trudeau may also reassert its independent position in global politics.

A stark new strategic development has been the overt assertion of military policies by the GCC countries led by Saudi Arabia. Their traditional covert role in supporting certain policies, including the Daesh question, transformed into an activist role not only in Syria but also in Yemen where untold civilian deaths have occurred as a result of the brutal war in which no clear victor has emerged but the human tragedy continues to escalate. There is the slight glimmer of hope that talks may begin in January to resolve this crisis.

However, a bizarre new development has taken place where the Saudis declared a military alliance to fight terrorism in which major non-Arab Muslims states were named as partners, including Pakistan – and most of these states had no idea what was going on. Certainly the threat of Daesh is global and its presence is creeping up across Europe and across Asia. Therefore, regional efforts to fight Daesh terror would be a welcome development but to leave out a crucial state, Iran – a regional power and one that has been in the forefront of fighting Daesh – raises serious issues of credibility of the alliance.

Finally, Pakistan has failed to comprehend the extent of the new strategic dynamics, especially in its own region. It has failed to see the BJP’s agenda of “uniting Pakistan and Bangladesh with India” and Modi’s murderous record which made him a pariah globally till India’s growing saffron tide elected him to power. Pakistan has continued to legitimise this extremist leader whose hands are soaked in Muslim blood.

The tragedy is that Pakistan has no clear India policy; so its leaders willy-nilly embrace Modi when he seeks an embrace and then cry hoarse of ill-treatment as Modi targets Pakistan in the UN and other international forums. Modi attacked Pakistan viciously in Kabul then got the embrace he sought in Jati Umra.

Even more dangerous for Pakistan is its failure to realise that there is now a strong military strategic alliance between the US and India at multiple levels, from nuclear to Ballistic Missile Defence to the transfer of military technology to the latest proposed Logistics Support Agreement (LSA) which will allow each country access to the other’s military bases and ports so that they can make changes to each other’s facilities for purposes of coordinated action.

Pakistan has not understood the need to move beyond the one or other approach towards India: ‘conflict resolution first’ or ‘trade first’ options. What is needed is a comprehensive security route to cooperation but the policymakers are deaf to new approaches.

Even on Afghanistan, where the Nato failure to create a stable environment or a strong Afghan National Army before it departs has created new dynamics, Pakistan is stuck in a quagmire of trying for peace talks with no clarity of what it seeks in order to protect its own interests – which now are mired in confusion as we try to shed old excess baggage but are not sure what to put in its place.

Like the US and its allies, in 2016 Pakistan will find itself in a dialectical struggle of what needs to be changed and what can remain the same in terms of viable policy options.

The writer is a PTI MNA and DG of SSII. The views expressed are her own. Email: